physician wellness

New National Academy of Medicine paper addresses physician burnout

AOA leadership partnered with education experts and several DOs and medical students to publish the piece.

More than half of physicians and up to 40% of students, interns and residents experience burnout, which affects their workplace motivation, empathy levels, and general health.

Depression among physicians is also on the rise, with over 300 physicians taking their lives each year, reports a new National Academy of Medicine perspective piece on addressing physician burnout and depression. AOA leadership partnered with education experts and several DOs and medical students to publish the piece.

Systemic changes urged

The paper also urges changes to health care at a systemic level, including altering required osteopathic medical curricula and encouraging licensing boards to promote physician wellness and consider the pros and cons of physicians reporting their mental health concerns to them.

The Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) would need a recommendation from the AOA to incorporate wellness training into the osteopathic medical school curriculum, the authors note.

Having conversations with the Federation of State Medical Boards about their role in addressing physician wellness is another way the authors say the AOA can help address the crisis in physician wellness.

While licensing boards have patient safety in mind when determining if a physician is in good standing to practice medicine, some physicians avoid seeking help for mental health issues because they’re worried that doing so will negatively impact their license and ability to practice medicine, the authors note.

Other recommendations from the authors include the following:

  • Medical schools should provide programming and counseling that allow students to privately and confidentially discuss mental health concerns.
  • Training programs, physician employers, and physician organizations should provide physician wellness toolkits, resources, and programming for incoming residents and practicing physicians.
  • The AOA and other medical associations should provide CME and non-CME initiatives that address mindfulness and life-work balance.

“As past president of the AOA, I feel it is essential for the association to recognize critical mental health issues among our membership that affect their current and future practice and the health and welfare of their patients,” says John Becher, DO, one of the article’s authors. “The AOA must respond by raising the awareness of this issue as well as providing programs for our students, residents, and practicing osteopathic physicians.”

Recognizing that the proposed recommendations can take time, Robert Piccininni, DO, a psychiatrist who also contributed to the article, says the best thing physicians can do right now to help a struggling physician is to talk to them about it.

“Often a depressed person desires to share their mental pain,” says Dr. Piccinini. “We sometimes don’t reach out to those who we know are hurting because we do not feel we know what to say. Most of the time, the person who’s hurting just needs someone to listen.”

3 comments

  1. I am yet another burned out PCP taking early retirement. I agree in the assessment of the problem, but would encourage a more holistic approach. We osteopaths pride ourselves on treating more than the symptoms, looking deeper into the causes. Burnout is an epidemic in our profession because of changes in the workplace. Wellness training may be helpful, but it’s a bandaid on a festering wound. We owe it to each other, and to the public, to raise awareness and propose solutions. I suggest we push for a single, federally funded EMR designed by the best medical educators and programmers, with integrated top notch voice recognition.

  2. The increasing costs of mandatory maintenance of certification, membership in professional societies coupled with already costs of your DEA, State License renewal, and required cme. Is causing me to leave the profession. I just can’t afford these fees, raise a family, and continue to pay my student loans. One major thing that would help would be to eliminate mandatory maintenance of certification. Otherwise, I can’t survive as a family doctor.

  3. I oppose another study of the problem or recommendations from any supportive or governing body as these inevitably end up with another mandate or requirement. The AOA senior leadership should be strenuously pushing back against bureaucrats running our profession. I do agree that, given the current climate, the Federal government should be offering a free, single format medical record that incorporates voice technology, and have the viewpoint that my licensing dollars have paid for such a feature over and over (thus it isn’t free).

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